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Saint Laurent Is Sticking With What Sells

LA groupies in Paris couture." That's the way Nicole Phelps, director of Vogue Runway, summarized the aesthetic of Hedi Slimane's spring 2015 Saint Laurent collection. Throughout his short tenure at the legendary French house, Slimane has consistently violated fashion's ultimate taboo — producing riffs on the same look season after season, leather jacket after leather jacket.


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Yesterday, the designer debuted his spring 2016 collection, his seventh for the brand. As always, there was a dramatic set and soundtrack, a front row full of punk rock and indie musicians, and fast-walking sullen-faced models in high-end versions of grunge.

The new — denim overalls, rubber boots, and tiaras — worked perfectly with the tried-and-true leather pants and sheer lace dresses Slimane turns out each season. It was a predictable spin on the look the designer has relied on since his very first runway show for the brand. Slimane had done it again, successfully cloning his grunge-punk princess, who just so happens to be a little more festival than in years past.

Saint Laurent spring 2016. Photo: Getty Images/Chris Moore

During Slimane's time at Saint Laurent, he's referenced different decades for different collections: a '70s flashback with pussy-bow blouses and wide brim hats for spring 2013, and a '90s retrospective of plaid shirts and micro-floral dresses for fall 2013. His obsession with American rock 'n' roll, West Coast punk, and grunge has been present in each.

The designer's first year at the helm was controversial — he dropped the Yves in Yves Saint Laurent, and moved the company's design headquarters to Los Angeles — but he did draw upon the fashion houses' signatures for his first collection, including notable versions of the iconic Le Smoking suit.

Critics were remarkably unimpressed; The International Herald Tribune's Suzy Menkes wrote, "Perhaps Mr. Slimane can use the YSL codes next season to move forward from homage to something more dynamic." Tim Blanks balked at fall 2013's baby-doll dresses, fishnet stockings, and chunky motorcycle boots, and the Washington Post's Robin Givhan called the spring 2014 collection an "assault on luxury and beauty."

But as clothing trickled into stores, this negativity was drowned out by an increase in sales. The house brought in an estimated $320.6 million euros in the first half of 2014, a 28 percent increase compared to the previous year. The new Saint Laurent was performing; annual sales more than doubled from 2011 to 2014.

Saint Laurent fall 2014 and spring 2015. Photos: Getty Images

Fashion critics and Slimane rarely see eye-to-eye. The rebellious designer has a notoriously bad relationship with the press, having dispatched big-name editors to the second and third rows in favor of his coterie of musicians. He famously blacklisted former New York Times critic Cathy Horyn from his debut collection, insulted by a statement she made back in 2004.

But most fashion editors and critics don't represent the new Saint Laurent woman, and neither do the old muses and models of the late Yves Saint Laurent. Slimane longs for a specific client: she frequents '80s nightclubs, goes overboard on eyeliner, and listens to grunge. She's Sky Ferreira or Alison Mosshart.

Sky Ferreira for Saint Laurent pre-fall 2013.

Shoppers have snapped up his $6,000 Saint Laurent motorcycle jackets and $900 flannel shirts, launching Slimane into golden boy territory — a shining light of growth at Kering and for buyers across the US, Europe, and China. Devoted fashion followers have stopped penning 2,000-word essays about the repetitiveness of Slimane's runways, moving on to more pressing matters, like how he's able to get away with those prices. As Horyn, who continues to issue scathing critiques of Slimane and his designs, wrote for T Magazine: "It's as though he refuses to strive for the standard goals of a luxury designer — to make modern, conceptual or intellectually resonating clothes. Instead, he makes straightforward commercial fashion that a woman can instantly relate to."

Well, it's working.

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